Rancid (Contemporary Musicians)
Punk rock band
Rancid, who cut their brand of punk music formula heavily influenced by the Clashith ska, reggae, and sometimes rockabilly and pop elements, helped put northern California's East Bay on the musical map. Although some critics dismiss the group as mere throwbacks to the early days of punk music, loyal supporters often call them the Rolling Stones to Green Day's Beatles. In truth, most punk enthusiasts place Rancid somewhere in between these two descriptions; while Rancid, known for sporting bondage trousers and colored mohawks, does often mine guitar riffs from their forebears, the street-smart group nonetheless produced short, clever songs that always sounded exhilrating.
As a result of their solid punk-pop songwriting platform, Rancidormed in Albany, California, in 1990as able to break into the mainstream in the mid-1990s, finding their way on to modern rock radio and MTV with the hit songs "Time Bomb" and "Ruby Soho" from their third album ...And Out Come the Wolves. For Rancid, comprised of lead vocalist/guitarist Tim Armstrong, guitarist/vocalist Lars Frederiksen, bass guitarist Matt Freeman, and drummer Brett Reed, reviving punk music meant more than the dyed hair, tattoos, and body piercing. The band's gritty lyrics and hard-edged sound reminded everyone just what punk rock was all about. And despite all the attention, Rancid, without fail, remained true to their craft.
"We really haven't changed," said Armstrong, discussing the group's 1998 album Life Won't Wait in an interview with Rolling Stone's Lorraine Ali. "We're still loyal to the scene that gave us so much. We started a record label, signed all our favorite bands and still go to shows. We're just trying to give back what we got out of it." Indeed, punk rock literally saved the members of Rancid, all of whom grew up in a world of blue-collar poverty. "It's such a cliché to say that music saves lives, but for me it's really true," Frederiksen revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone, as quoted by Fred McKissack in the Progressive. Two years ago I was shooting dope and drinking myself to death. I wouldn't be here today if these guys hadn't become my family."
Rancid's roots lay in the East Bay scene centered on Gilman Street, a club in Berkeley, California. The nonprofit, all-volunteer operation provided groups like Green Day and Rancid, as well as Rancid's precursor Operation Ivy, with a supportive environment and an opportunity to play in the late-1980s and early-1990s, times when options for the new breed of punk bands were limited. Reed, who had previously been hanging out in the more hard-core clubs of San Francisco, saw Gilman Street as a revelation. In Berkeley, people were accepted into the fold, whether they were hardened street kids or not. "You could have fun at shows instead of having to deal with the whole violence thing," the drummer recalled to Alec Foege in Rolling Stone.
Since then, however, Gilman Street has more or less become a shrine to popular punk bands from the East Bay, as well as a hangout for greedy major-label A&R representatives. After Green Day and the Offspring, bands that hailed Operation Ivy as a major influence, became platinum-selling superstar acts, it wasn't long before record industry representatives in search of the next big thing started showing up at Rancid gigs. Sure enough, by December of 1994 Rancid, too, was considering a lucrative offer: a 1.5 million record deal with Epic Records, along with a $500,000 publishing contract. Finding themselves surrounded by a mob of managers and booking agents, Rancid in the end decided to stay with their original home, Epitaph Records, the Los-Angeles based independent label that also fostered the careers of the Offspring, NOFX, and Pennywise. "Staying on Epitaph put so much fire in us, man," Armstrong told Foege. "During all the bullshit, we developed a Rancid motto: The only people that are happy with us are us."
Friends since high school, Armstrongho then went by the moniker "Lint"nd Freeman from 1987-89 played together in Operation Ivy, one of the early bands that launched the scene at Gilman Street. Formed in Oakland, California, with drummer Dave Mello and vocalist Jesse Michaels, Operation Ivy drew inspiration from the Ruts and the Clash, as well as Great Britain's Two-Tone movement. The band released the Hectic EP in 1988 and the full-length Energy in 1989, both on Lookout ! Records, before succumbing to the pressures of local success and unbroken touring and calling it quits. During their two short years of existence, Operation Ivy amassed a passionate following around the East Bay. Armstrong remembered the night before one sold-out show in particular, when he was approached by a 15-year-old fan. "I can't get in," the youngster told him, as quoted by Foege, "but I love you guys, and we have the same last name." Without pausing to think, Armstrong led him in through the kitchen entrance. That young fan, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong (of no relation), still considers that night one of the most important and inspiring events of his life.
After Operation Ivy disbanded, Armstrong and Freeman formed a few more short-lived bands. Then Freeman joined a band called MDC (Millions of Dead Cops), a decision the bassist admitted had a lot to do with his strained relationship with his father, a Berkeley police officer, while Armstrong worked as a roadie for the same group until his serious drinking problem prevented him from adhering to the schedule. His worsening addictions finally resulted in five trips to a detoxification facility in nearby Richmond, followed by a stint with the Salvation Army collecting unwanted clothes and furniture. Then, with just two weeks of sobriety under his belt, Armstrong contacted Freeman, informing his pal that he wanted to regroup. Freeman, by this time employed at a truck-rental company, immediately agreed.
Returned to Punk as Rancid
"Armstrong's street clotheslue-green bondage pants, cherry-red combat boots, a white muscle T-shirt and a shredded jean jacket held together by safety pinscream London 1977," wrote Foege. "But unlike the average zonked-out anarchist, Armstrong exudes a distinctly Brandoesque magnetism. Dark, gentle, brooding, Rancid's leader and main lyricist cuts a rangy, handsome profile. He talks as if he's got marbles in his mouth and walks with a slacker slump; but when he speaks, his eyes glow, and he chooses words with the utmost care."
Born the youngest of three brothers in 1966 in Albany, a lower middle-class town just north of Berkeley, Armstrong grew up in a decent neighborhood in an old house his mother inherited from her father. However, the family remained poor. Armstrong's father, a maintenance worker, also had a drinking problem, and his mother, a worker at a cookie factory, eventually had to support the entire household on her meager income alone. "Mom's a real hard worker," Armstrong said. "Even though we had no money, she was too proud to go on welfare. And she'd try to take us nice places like the Oakland Zoo."
Armstrong formed his first band with older brother Greg, who later became a career sergeant in the United States Army. Listening to his brother's extensive record collection, which included the Ramones, the Clash, the Dead Kennedys, and the Circle Jerks, Armstrong became a huge fan of punk music. His all-time favorite band, however, was the Specials, a British ska outfit. Like Armstrong, the other members of Rancid shared a similar background, both musically and socially. Freeman, raised by his father, a single parent, was also born in 1966 and grew up in Albany, and Reed, born in 1972, spent his childhood shuffling back and forth between his divorced parents' homes.
Frederiksen, born in 1972, came from a broken home as well. His mother, a native of Denmark, came to the United States as a nanny and worked for many wealthy New Yorkers and celebrities, including, at one time, Gene Kelly. The son of an absent father, Frederiksen, a high school dropout, spent most of his childhood in Campbell, California, a small town near San Jose with a predominantly Mexican American population. Wellknown for his red mohawk haircut, Frederiksen grew up listening to bands like Crass, Discharge, and the Subhumans, who, he admits, scared him a little at first. Today, Frederiksen outshines all his bandmates as the one with the most tattoos.
At the time Armstrong and Freeman recruited Reed to join Rancid, the aspiring drummer, who had just bought a used drum kit from a junkie in San Francisco, hardly knew how to play at all. But within a month, Rancid played its first show as a three-piece. In 1992, Lookout! released the trio's first seven-inch single, "I'm Not the Only One." Initially, Rancid flirted with the idea of using Billy Joe Armstrong as a second guitarist. But in the meantime, Rancid received an offer from Brett Gurevitz of Epitaph Records to record their debut album, and during the sessions, they met Frederiksen and invited him to join the group. Rancid released their self-titled debut album in April of 1993, then embarked on their first national tour, followed by an extended tour of Europe.
Sold Millions of Records
Frederiksen, who had played previously with Slip and the UK Subs, made his recording debut with Rancid in early-1994 on the single "Radio Radio Radio," a song co-written with Billy Joe Armstrong and released on the Fat Wreck Chords label. In February of that year, Rancid entered the studio to begin sessions for their second album. The twenty-three song Let's Go, released later that year on Epitaph, drew comparisons to the early Clash sound played at a frenetic pace. The album took flight immediately, earning gold, then platinum status. Not surprisingly, major labels started calling, but Rancid turned down offers from Maverick Records, home to Madonna, and Epic in favor of remaining with their friends at Epitaph. The entire staff at the company flew up from Los Angeles to celebrate upon hearing the news.
A return to the studio in March of 1995 resulted in that year's ...And Out Come the Wolves. More fully formed and ska-influenced than its predecessors, though not exactly groundbreaking, Rancid's follow-up went platinum as well, won rave reviews, and showed up on several "best of" lists; Spin ranked ...And Out Come the Wolves at number ten on its list of "20 Best Albums of '95," the Village Voice listen the album at number 16 for its annual critics' poll, and Entertainment Weekly ranked the album at number six on its "Top 10 Albums of 1995."
After Armstrong formed his own imprint label, Hellcat, Rancid returned in 1998 with Life Won't Wait, which included a collaboration with Mighty Mighty Bosstones vocalist Dicky Barrettt for the song "Cash, Culture & Violence." Life Won't Wait became a best-seller, too, and garnered the group further praise from the music press. Rancid announced that a fifth album featuring more straight-ahead punk would hit store shelves in August of 2000.
By the end of 1998, Rancid had played more than a thousand shows, canceling just one date since the group's formation because of an illness. "We've always gone everywhere," Frederiksen informed Mark Healy of Rolling Stone. "Even if it was Copperas Cove, Texashere we played between pinball machines, 'cause the stage broke. It could be some kid just putting up this gig, renting out whatever he could get his hands on, just because he's excited about bands being able to come to his town. That's the beautiful thing about punk-rock touring: There's always a kid somewhere who will put on a show."
Rancid, Epitaph, 1993.
Let's Go, Epitaph, 1994.
...And Out Come the Wolves, Epitaph, 1995.
Life Won't Wait, Epitaph, 1998.
Billboard, June 6, 1998.
Boston Globe, June 4, 1998.
Guitar Player, September 1998.
Progressive, January 1996.
Rolling Stone, September 7, 1995; April 30, 1998; October 29, 1998.
Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (June 17, 2000).